When Lee Elder stands at parade rest on a golf course, waiting for some foe to play, he seems to wear a perpetual wolfish grin.

That's just about right because these days, Elder is happy and hungry.

For the first 50 years of his life, Elder figured he'd been born at the wrong time. Blacks weren't allowed on the PGA Tour until 1963, and by the time Elder arrived, in 1968 at the advanced age of 34, he was still considered a racial pioneer in his sport.

When Elder finally won a PGA event, he was 40. Next, he integrated the Masters in 1975. And in '76 he became the first black to win $100,000 in a season. But, always, Elder fought under the handicap of making up for lost time.

The record book says Elder won a million dollars on Tour. Which sounds great. Until you divide the total by 16 seasons, 500 hotel bills, 3,000 meals in restaurants and hundreds of airline fares. Without fancy sponsors or endorsements, he basically broke even.

By the '80s, his well was running dry. "Lee was making a decent living," said his wife Rose, bread winner No. 2 in the family, "but we weren't exactly stashing much away."

Then, 18 months ago, Elder celebrated his 50th birthday. How he celebrated.

Since then, counting the $28,500 check he received Sunday for a second-place finish, Elder has won just a few bucks less than half a million dollars on the new and booming Senior Tour.

"Seems like Lee Elder's like wine. He's getting better with age. But a lot harder to beat," said Gary Player, who won the PGA Seniors Championship Sunday afternoon, but not before seeing Elder cut his lead from nine shots to two over the final two rounds.

"This is really the first time in his life that Lee has been able to complete against his peers with no disadvantage," said Rose Elder.

"Sometimes," said Elder, "you're born at just the right time."


Just as Senior purses got big, but while the level of competition was still manageable, Elder turned 50.

"If it weren't for the Senior Tour, I'd be retired and home in Washington (running) a pro shop," said Elder.

Instead, he has won six Senior events, including four last season, when he collected $307,795 to finish No. 2 on the money list. Can't do much better than that. Except Elder is. This year, he's No. 1 with $63,066.

"What irritates me is people who say, 'What's Lee Elder doing with all this money he's winning?' " Rose Elder said. "He's playing catchup. He's paying his house note like everybody else."

To know how hungry Elder is, you only have to listen to him talk. And look at his tummy.

"I played awful lousy on the front nine today," said Elder, after a 39-32 -- 71 for 283 that was actually one of the best scores on a blustery day. "My irons shots weren't holding the green when I landed them back by the pins."

When others might have conceded, trailing the legendary Player by five shots at the turn, Elder birdied the 10th, 11th, 14th and 17th holes -- the last with a 30-foot putt. "I put pretty good pressure on him, but he wouldn't crack. That's why he's who he is," Elder said.

For Elder, this is just the beginning of what, from a financial point of view, will probably be his real career. "He'd like to play 10 years," Rose Elder said.

"As long as I can stay in good physical condition," he said.

That could be the problem.

"Lee needs to lose about 30 pounds," said his wife. "The doctor keeps reminding him that he has back (disc) and knee problems and those will only get worse if he stays heavy.

"But I've tried to stop nagging him. If there's Haagen-Dazs ice cream in town, or cake, Lee will find it. He tells me, 'We've reached the point in life where we should be able to enjoy a few things. If we don't do it now, when are we going to?' And I think his reasoning may be better than mine."

"When it settles in the old bread basket, it's hard to get rid of," Elder said. Nonetheless, Senior scourge might look on that midaged spread as a million-dollar belly ache. That's how much a premature end to his effectiveness might cost him.

Just a few days ago, it looked like Elder might have another liability. The Senior Tour policy board decided that, starting in 1987, golf carts would be banned, even for players with legitimate medical excuses. Elder may not be elderly yet, but he loves his cart.

This week, however, the old folks have had a testy little revolt, voting overwhelmingly to petition the board to leave those sacred carts alone. It's a lovely comic little war.

Arnold Palmer is the king of the anti-cart movement, lamenting the loss of glamor and athleticism attendant on watching old men "come flying down the fairway in carts while the gallery is left behind."

Aligned against him is, well, just about everybody. Said Chi Chi Rodriguez, "If FDR could run the country from a wheelchair, Sam Snead should be able to ride a golf cart."

"A couple of the better players don't like the idea of Lee beating them from a cart," said Rose Elder. "Well, they better get used to it, that's all I can tell 'em. The players took a vote the other day and only four of them were in favor of banning the carts -- Palmer, Don January, Miller Barber and Dow Finsterwald."

Name those names, Rose. Don't let 'em hassle your man.

"Don't make someone else suffer for what you want to do," Lee Elder said, defending mechanized golf. "In the long run, I think this petition will take care of the problem. After they see how much they're outnumbered, maybe they'll agree with us.

"Maybe they'll even ride."

Lee Elder smiled again. Don't bet that he won't be riding roughshod over that Senior Tour for a long time. Maybe he can even ride that cart up to the drive-thru window at the bank.